Remember when Apple's "retail experiment" was viewed as a risky, borderline-nutty strategy? Recall how Gateway and other technology companies were running away from their mall outposts while Apple was rolling out its first stores back in 2001? Randall Stross at the New York Times remembers [registration required], and he says that "[o]f the many predictions in the world of technology that have turned out to be spectacularly wrong, a prominent place should be made for what the pundits said in 2001 when Apple opened its first retail store in Tysons Corner, Va." Apple has succeeded tremendously in retail, partly due to a strategy of supporting a positive customer experience (Genius Bar!) and partly due to an unexpectedly popular product (the iPod).
Stross quotes Apple's quarterly report on retail numbers -- over 180 stores, sales of $855 million -- and compares the Apple retail mojo to the Sony Style stores' relatively low impact. He also notes the impending return of Dell to the retail channel; not through Dell-branded stores, but through Wal-Mart... there's a really positive retail association for you. As long as Apple continues to make an emotional connection with buyers at the point of sale, it'll be hard to beat the Apple Stores.
via Philip Elmer-Dewitt at Apple 2.0